Three Things Susan Boyle Taught Me About Monetizing Popular Content

Many people dream of creating something that takes the Internet by storm — captures millions of eyeballs, crosses over into the mainstream, and earn fame and fortune for the creator.  Examples of this abound.

[Source: YouTube] Susan Boyle’s performance set records on YouTube, but who cashed in?

By most any measure the Susan Boyle phenomenon on the show “Britain’s Got Talent” was a viral media-maker’s dream. The video of Ms. Boyle belting out the popular track from the musical “Les Miserables” has been viewed more than 220 million times worldwide.

And yet according to a New York Times article, the show’s producers and YouTube were not able to reach agreement on how to split advertising revenues.

With anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions in potential revenue at stake in those early days, why couldn’t parties come to terms more quickly? Below are three factors which seem to have played a role in the breakdown:

1) Clarity of content ownership
As the Times article points out, there are 3-4 parties involved in producing the show which complicates ownership and thus, complicates the disbursement of revenue not to mention the complexity of having all those players at the table. Providers also have differing priorities – making revenue vs. simply generating buzz.

2) Operate in social media ‘mode’
When video (or other content) explodes, content owners have to react quickly before the tide ebbs and the opportunity gets away. If this situation is any indicator, content producers need to consider developing quick-response capability before the viral tsunami hits. Many of the content producers haven’t made the jump completely to social media mode.

3) Embrace social media outlets as potential financial and promotional partners rather than threats
Content providers often see social media outlets as careless tramplers of their digital rights. In response (and in part to protect themselves), popular sites like YouTube are implementing systems to help ensure that content owners receive credit — and ad dollars where possible — for their content even if they aren’t responsible for posting it. Apart from ad revenue, outlets like YouTube, Facebook and Viddler, etc. also help drive valuable buzz potentially boosting the popularity and viewership of the particular product or property. Until these protections are in place though, some content providers may be hesitant to view the YouTubes of the world as friends just yet.

As with anything, there are nuances here and the high-level observations above don’t apply across the board. Some content providers have gone so far as to create their own platform for delivering content. Hulu (FOX, NBC Universal, etc.) comes to mind. Others have been leveraging YouTube and other outlets for quite some time using teasers and other techniques designed to convert web viewers to TV viewers.

There are other factors — some producers are frustrated about the limited options for displaying ads or getting stuck with standard terms & conditions in a “non-standard” situation, among others.

This season of “Britain’s Got Talent” is over and to the certain disappointment of millions of her fans, Susan Boyle has placed and not won. But will her meteoric rise (and that of her video) spell changes in the ways content providers and social media outlets approach these kinds of opportunities?

Time will tell.

D.J. Smith is CEO of CiV Digital. He has been building and designing web products for over 15 years.

(Original published on WebDriven: http://www.bewebdriven.com/blog/2009/06/three-things-susan-boyle-taught-me-about-monetizing-popular-content.php)

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